Legal news and tips for employees, by Law Office of Eugene Lee

Filing a Discrimination Complaint in California

Filing Discrimination ComplaintIn California, employees who wish to file a discrimination lawsuit cannot do so until they first file “charges” with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and/or the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) and obtain “right to sue” letters. This process is called “administrative exhaustion”.
Luckily, the systems are now highly automated and charges can be filled out online at the DFEH‘s and EEOC‘s websites. You can still choose to mail your charge in using the DFEH’s form. And the EEOC permits you to mail in a letter containing the following:

* Your name, address, and telephone number

* The name, address and telephone number of the employer (or employment agency or union) you want to file your charge against

* The number of employees employed there (if known)

* A short description of the events you believe were discriminatory (for example, you were fired, demoted, harassed)

* When the events took place

* Why you believe you were discriminated against (for example, because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information)

* Your signature

Typically, people file with the EEOC if they intend to pursue federal employment discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, etc. (No EEOC charge need be filed for medical leave claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or gender pay discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act). People file with the DFEH if they intend to pursue state employment discrimination claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and medical leave claims under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).


California employment laws tend to offer at least the same amount and types of protections as federal employment laws and, in many respects, more powerful protections for the employee. For instance, the California FEHA protect a wider class of disabled people than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and applies to a broader set of employers (employers with more than 5 employees for FEHA versus 15 employees for Title VII). Also, California employment claims are generally not subject to the special employer defenses that exist under federal law. See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) 490 U.S. 228; Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa (2003) 539 U.S. 90. A California court tried to introduce these federal employer defenses into California law recently in Harris v. City of Santa Monica but, thankfully, the court reversed itself after granting a petition for rehearing filed by my colleague, Michael Nourmand, a Los Angeles employment attorney.

So for now, California laws (and filing with the DFEH) are generally the better way to go for employees.

In any case, the EEOC and DFEH have a “work sharing agreement” under which a charge filed with one is deemed filed with the other.


There are aggressive filing deadlines (which is one reason why you shouldn’t wait too long before consulting with a lawyer). Employees must file with the EEOC no later than 180 days after the illegal action occurred. For the DFEH, the deadline is 1 year.

Agency Investigations v. Private Lawsuit

The EEOC/DFEH agency receiving your charge may investigate and prosecute your claims themselves. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and budgets, the process can be drawn out and frustrating, taking a year or more. Even if the agency makes a finding of discrimination, it may still choose not to prosecute the matter in court. In almost all cases, the process is not as effective or efficient as a private lawsuit. To see something analogous to what I’m talking about, read my post, Dept. of Labor Fails to Protect Workers: “We have a crisis in wage theft”.

Traps for the Unwary

It’s amazing how some judges decide to let the EEOC and DFEH charges into evidence against the employee and even throw cases out based on what is contained in (or missing from) the charges. Defense lawyers like to make a big deal in front of the jury out of inconsistencies or contradictions contained in the charges, even though employees often fill them out themselves without the help of a lawyer. This is why it is always better to contact a lawyer BEFORE filling out and filing the charge yourself. Do not underestimate how important the charge can be to your case and how it can be used against you.

Also, keep in mind that different filing procedures and deadlines apply for government employees and for claims regarding whistleblower retaliation and wage and hour claims (overtime, breaks, minimum wage, etc.).

If you are facing legal issues in the workplace, contact a lawyer to discuss it and he can help you navigate the filing traps for the unwary.


17 Responses to Filing a Discrimination Complaint in California

  1. So I work in a fine dining steakhouse. I work behind the bar where all my coworkers are Hispanic and bilingual. My bar manager is as well. They constantly converse in Spanish. My manager will also constantly come back and speak Spanish to my coworkers as a whole. I am the only one who doesn’t speak Spanish. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and I also know on one occasion my manager was speaking badly about me in Spanish behind bar to one of my coworkers. Is this legal?

  2. My wife applied for a job with a City in California several months ago, that is in the same department where she has worked in a different city in California for almost 10 years. This job would have been a step DOWN in pay and title, but was closer to where we live and in theory had more room for advancement.

    After months of going through their grueling hiring process, they sent a letter stating they wanted to proceed with the hiring process, and she just needed to do the Livescan ™ and pass their background check.

    A month later, another letter arrives stating she failed the background check, without any supporting documents or reasons, even though she requested a copy of anything they found (she’s maybe gotten a traffic ticket before and that’s it)

    They have since pulled the job position, so I am thinking that they used the last piece of the process to choose someone less qualified over her. Is there any recourse?


  3. I am 47 bias parties deny job fabricate lies: example SCB 15-1196 foia act how many parties share interest: rude past tentans rental contracts no access: BBB rude: calls, prejudice NSA v CIA 898 F.2d 235 DC: slut demand nerd: DC cir ?? discovery?

  4. Thank you for sharing such valuable insight and information. The importance of having your claims filed within the correct amount of time and with the right contentis crucial to success. In many cases a discrimination lawyer in Los Angeles
    could make the difference between winning and losing your case.

  5. I have missed the deadlines – it has been a little over 2 years since I was fired, with two other older employees. I see some talk that I can sue under the Equal Pay Act for 3 years. I am in California. Is there anything that I can do?

  6. DISCRIMINATED AGAINST!! When and IF a call back for an interview! Question, ” Do you speak Spanish? ” Answere, No. Born and raised in California! White Male 24, cannot qualify for the position. We are ” THE UNITED STATES of AMERICA !!! ”
    The #1 Language IS ENGLISH!!! WE the People, Proud to be, the U.S.of A.!!! What is wrong with this picture??? California, get smart, Vote and protect your Country, your State. God Bless

  7. Thanks for this wonderful blog. I liked this information provided by you. Keep sharing such kind of blogs. Compliance and audits are a certain way which assures the best HR practices and metrics are being followed by the organization.

  8. There are a lot of discrimination complaints you can check out online, different stories and different ways of discrimination I read lots of stories about it. Sad feelings for the discriminated persons.

  9. Very true is the need to contact a competent lawyer before starting the legal process by filing the complaint.  People are largely unaware of how what they are saying can be perceived and attacked.

  10. Hey, you have a great blog here! Excellent information for the reader. I’m definitely going to bookmark you!

    I have a websitesite also it covers California Labor Law related information as well. Come and check it out if you get time

  11. I wonder if an employer hurting or maltreating her
    employee, (house maid to be specific) is covered in the services offered by Los Angeles personal injury attorneys
    or in employment and labor law attorney

  12. Have you noticed that the processing time for right to sue letters seems to have substantially increased lately?

    Thanks for putting up all this information. It is really useful. And thanks for visiting my site and for all the comments.

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